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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Newcomers learn about movie history, filmmaking through Canyons Film Festival submissions

May 29, 2022 12:32PM ● By Julie Slama

Jordan Valley’s Nathan Curtis, seen with his teacher Glenda Folkersen, represented his classmates and accepted the best short film award as he appears as Mr. Rogers in the school’s first-ever film entry shown on the giant screen at the Canyons Film Festival. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

For the past 10 years, Jordan Valley teacher Glenda Folkersen thought it would be fun to make a short film with her students, but the idea was always put on pause.

This year, while teaching her students about the 2021 opening of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles, Folkersen decided to hit record as her students brought the history of filmmaking to life.

Fast forward to April 28 as one of her students, Nathan Curtis, representing himself and his 10 classmates, was able to roll down the red carpet to claim the golden film canister as winners at the Canyons Film Festival. It was the first film Jordan Valley has entered in the 12-year contest.

“Every year when the film festival rolls around, I’m always saying, ‘Why doesn’t Jordan Valley participate in this?’ I’ve always thought it would be fun to make a short film with my students and enter it,” Folkersen said, who bounced around making a film with her student teacher Cora Bentley, who also liked the idea. “Without even stopping, I went to my back closet and pulled out a bin of hats and decided to let the kids choose which hat they liked and then we created the storyline.”

Folkersen followed where her students’ eyes looked as a way of selecting their hats.

“With their disabilities, some of them have their own form of communication. They will gaze if they want something or if I’m holding up a squid hat versus a sombrero, they’ll gaze to say yes at the one they want,” she said about students at the school who have severe multiple disabilities and can be extremely medically fragile.

Part of the goal at Jordan Valley School is to improve the quality of life for students, age five to 22, and their families and Folkersen saw this as an opportunity her students could participate in, similarly to mainstream students.

As the project unfolded, Jordan Valley achievement coach Brett Taylor stepped up to help with the filming and even arranged for Canyons School District to paint his office wall green as a form of a green screen for the students in the film.

“We would dress our kids up, take them into the green room and if they had a speaking part, we would record it onto a switch device, so the kids could activate the switch to say their lines,” Folkersen said, adding that when one student was studying from home, Folkersen even went to her house to record her to ensure she was part of the film.

Tying into the opening of the motion picture museum that her students were studying, the cast of room 261 created, “Making Movie History.”

The opening scene has Miles Askvig dressed as a construction worker as he fits in with other workers to build the museum. Then, the movie history tour begins with Stephanie Moreno-Cervantes as a silent movie star. Abby Wilburn emerged in the first color movie as Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” followed by Curtis as Mr. (Fred) Rogers in “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Next, students explore documentary films as Ahmed Hmeida and Sam Willardsen, wearing squid hats, discover the underwater world. From there, the students’ movie moves into animation films starring Jade Stephens dressed as Jessie and Caleb Kirk appearing as Andy in “Toy Story,” and Emily Jensen wearing Elsa’s hairstyle in “Frozen.” 

All the students were part of the “Ghostbusters” scene before Willardsen, joined by Monique Lopez and Connor Bruce, wearing sombreros highlighted the movie, “Coco.” The Jordan Valley studios’ film ends with fireworks.

During the process, Folkersen said it created happy memories for her students.

“We had so many smiles and fun while doing this. Nathan loves Mr. Rogers and one of my favorite experiences with this whole production was getting him in a sweater and tie to play the part of Mr. Rogers. When I turned him around in front of a full-length mirror, he laughed so hard. It was the most joyous memory because he was so proud of himself and happy to play the part of Mr. Rogers in our production,” she said.

It ended up being more than just a movie as a class project.

“We thought this would be a great short movie for families to get out and watch with popcorn and just really enjoy, but we had so much more. We had so much attention and clapping from the audience. Yes, we have students with disabilities, and it was our first time we’ve participated, but so many people came up and said how meaningful the movie was for them and how their own kids can’t watch it without smiling,” she said. “That’s what these kids do, they just make you happy.”

There were other first-time entries, like Hillcrest High’s Jayashabari Shankar, who won the high school public service announcement category with “Buy Local, Think Global.”

“I went out shopping and saw signs to buy locally produced items and that really sparked my interest so I did some research on that and thought it would be a really cool idea to do that for a film,” she said. “I’ve always been interested in writing and artistically spreading a message. I decided this would be a new challenge, especially after the last two years when so many things were virtual or canceled so I wanted to give it a try. I’ve never done a video in this format before, so I’ve learned about filmmaking. I liked the fast-paced tone of the PSA; it’s catchy and I could add music so people would remember it. It’s really been a good learning experience.”

They marked just some of the winners of the 600 students and faculty who submitted films this year. It was the largest in the film festival’s history, which marked the return of the event after a one-year absence because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, the ceremony was held virtually.

Other PSA winners include: Lilyaina Moore, Brookwood Elementary, “Sunburns;” and Jacob Despain, Eastmont Middle, “The Easter bunny does not approve of cyberbullying.”

Other short-film winners include Scarlette Matheson, Ben Hunt, Parker Bates, Jacob Do, Adelle Booth, Helena Mabonza, Sydney Merkley, Syniva Angilau, Brooklyn Thomson, Landen Williams, Luke Hobby and Abner Larsen, Ellie Holt, Cooper Wennerholm, Charlie Gulini, Charlie Gulini, Kaleb Faraimo, Ronan Christensen, Marina Araujo and Graham Abbott, Oakdale Elementary, “The Case of the Missing Pickles;” Maya Yrungaray, Draper Park Middle and Linda Vogel, Liz Vance, Emma Bodell, and Noah Garcia, Corner Canyon High, “Struck.”

Animation winners include: Abigail Felt, Lucas Felt and Cara Swinyard, Canyon View Elementary, “The Snowman and the Chick;” Gretel Diederich, Indian Hills Middle, “Mini Lifeguard;” and Cameron Tillman, Brighton High, “Laughter is the Best Medicine.”

Newscast winners were Sprucewood Elementary Falcon Report; Draper Park Middle Mrs. Steel’s first semester fifth period newscast; and Jordan High School NewsBEET and El NewsBEET.

Documentary winners include: Sadie Young, Peruvian Park, “How to make a fun after-school snack;” and Campbell Hone, Amber Parker and Abigail Slama-Catron, Hillcrest High, “Voting Rights.”

Other winners include World Language film by Mathias Olsen, Butler, “Omelette[LL1] ;” best film for digital citizenship: Maya Yrungarya, Draper Park Middle, “Netiquette;” Ava Harvey, Jordan High, for film festival poster; and a tie for teacher film with Daniel Croshaw, Dallin Maxfield, Clark Ashland and Joe Wale, Albion Middle, “Basketball Bros;” and Wade Harman, Diamond Ridge, “An Invitation to Freedom.”